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July 6, 2000
Protests against Bhutan's link with northeast rebels: AFP
Thousands of people marched in of Assam on Thursday to protest against alleged links between separatist rebels in the region and the government of neighbouring Bhutan.
The protestors, holding anti-Bhutan banners, marched through various remote villages and towns in western Assam, not far from the border with Bhutan.
"The aim of these marches is to mobilise public opinion against Bhutan's role in aiding militants to wage a war against India," Lakhman Hazarika, a school teacher from Mangaldoi, 150 kilometers north of the state capital Guwahati, told AFP.
The Assam government has accused Bhutan of allowing Assamese separatist groups use of their diplomatic bags to smuggle money to Southeast Asia to purchase arms.
Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said his government had "documentary evidence" to back up the allegation.
"This is a very dangerous trend and needs to be followed up by the Union government," Mahanta said.
The chief minister said the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland -- both fighting for independent homelands -- were channeling funds through the "Bhutanese diplomatic pouch" to their leaders based in Southeast Asian capitals.
Bhutan has denied the charges, while admitting that some individuals could have been involved in wrongdoing.
"When we are facing so much due to militancy, a friendly country like Bhutan should not encourage militancy. Rather they should adopt a firm posture in driving the rebels from their kingdom," said college student Archana Das.
Both the ULFA and the NDFB have well entrenched bases across the border in southern Bhutan, which they have used to launch insurgency operations in Assam for the past three years.
India estimates that more than 4,000 armed rebels are holed up in Bhutan.
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